Food & Drinks

5 Essential Ingredients of Punjabi Food

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5 Essential Ingredients of Punjabi Food

A visit to the Punjab region of India reveals a stunning landscape dotted with wheat fields, yellow mustard blossoms, rice paddies and sugarcane.

Known as India’s breadbasket, the Punjab is also a dairy region so it is no surprise the local cooking reflects these agricultural traditions. So what exactly goes into Punjabi food?

The region is famous for its tandoor, a clay oven used to cook bread and meats, and for its rich and creamy dishes such as chicken tikka masala.

Cooks use a wide range of ingredients to prepare vibrant and delicious meals but here is a look at five common ingredients used in preparing Punjabi food.

Lassi (buttermilk)

In rural Punjab women rise at dawn to milk buffalos. This fresh milk is churned into butter and its byproduct, lassi (buttermilk) is enjoyed as a beverage. Lassis can be prepared sweet or savory (think a pinch of salt and roasted cumin) or may be sweetened with sugar and fruits such as mango.


Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked until the solids brown, which lends it its trademark golden color and nutty flavor. Often times ghee is used for ceremonial purposes, whether it be to light candles at the temple or prepare sweets for a religious ceremony but it is also used to fry spices, onions, garlic and ginger. A dollop of ghee added to a bowl of curry or naan is the perfect finishing touch.

Mustard Oil

Other parts of India favor cooking in mustard seeds but the people of the Punjab opt for mustard oil instead. This bright yellow oil is very pungent and large amounts of it will bring tears to your eyes. Mustard oil is used for frying onions, garlic and ginger but it is also the secret to cooking the perfect vegetable pakora.

Green chilies

India is known for its hot and spicy red chilies but in Punjab the green variety is preferred. You'll find it in chopped into curries, added to meat and vegetable dishes and even served whole as an accompaniment to meals. Many home cooks grind dried green chilies to use year round.

Dried Ginger Powder

Fresh ginger is widely used throughout the Indian subcontinent but the dried version is popular in Punjab. It is sprinkled into Ayurvedic remedies and used to prepare dishes such as bhindi masala (an okra dish) and to cook bitter melon, also known as kerela, among other vegetable dishes.

Inspired to try some Punjabi food? Try your hand at making traditional potato samosas or chana masala (pictured above).

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